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Vulnerability to Vandals

A concern often heard regards the potential for vandalism. Although already addressed by conventional transit systems (where repair costs are a small part of overall O&M costs), the following exchange fills in some details.


-------- Forwarded Message --------
From: William B.
To: Rob Means
Subject: The ATN station proposal...
Date: Fri, 3 Apr 2015 11:40:36 -0700

I've been intrigued by the paper you distributed at an eBoard meeting a month ago, so I checked out many of the ATN web pages on the idea. It's a beautiful idea, and in a world of socially conscious people, it should work.
But - as the universal skeptic that I am, here are my concerns - and I could not find them expressed in the ATN web pages -

  • Maintenance and defense against vandalism is a big deal in America. Let's face it - the public are slobs and and there are many vandals afoot. Look at the VTA light rail stations. All are equipped with an escalator and an elevator. Both have been the targets of vandalism of various kinds, and often disabled. By having 117 stations, that problem is multiplied, especially since the stations are elevated.

  • I worry about vandalism of the cars themselves. Those beautiful new VTA light rail trains were quickly marked up - windows scratched, seats marked up, etc, I think mostly due to the open riding arrangement, with only occasional ticket inspections. Installing web cameras I think helped curb that. The stations are pretty brutal, after all their glassware vandalized.

  • The VTA light rail escalators go up, but not down. So if an elevator is disabled, or really stinky - which it often is - the disabled riders are in a serious fix.

  • BART has this problem in spades, and is finding it really expensive to keep their escalators in repair. They are being used as toilets, and a little of that means a really costly repair and replacement problem.

  • One disabled ATN car stuck on a track would disable much of the system, backing up everyone for miles. One clever vandal could quickly figure out how to disable a car, laughing as the system clogs up a whole line, making everyone mad and disgusted with the system.

  • America seems to be full of vandals, litterbugs and slobs, compared to certain other nations. When Jean and I river-cruised through Germany, I watched the riverbank glide by for hours, and never saw a single beer can, plastic bag, bottle or paper litter. The trains and stations were free of graffitti. Until we can somehow curb this social problem, we are going to be stuck with the consequences.

However, I'm fascinated by the recent progress in driverless cars, especially as more cars go electric. I really think that in a decade, the bulk of the cars on the road will be automated. This will not only make it possible to increase the density of traffic on major arteries, but be a boon to those of us unable to carry a driver's license.

I also expect to see driverless public cabs operating well enough to make it feasible to just not bother owning a car. You would just order one through your cellphone a few minutes before you have to make some errands, it would arrive in your driveway, you use it, then you release it to the pool! That would also alleviate the problem of finding parking downtown, since you would just release the car, asking it show up later to pick you up.

When enough people adopt such a scheme, the number of cars on the road should drop dramatically, easing road congestion and parking.

The accident rate caused by driverless cars is already orders of magnitude below that of human driven cars, and that translates into safe transport, lower costs overall, cheaper insurance, etc.

Driverless cars would be free of the vandalism problem, since a disabled car would not obstruct other traffic. The use of a public car would require a credit card, so the system would always know who used it when some damage is noticed by a later driver.

There's a certain fear of being attacked in a public railcar, without a good way to escape. That would disappear with driverless cars - should your car show up with an uninvited passenger, you would just not get in, and signal the police instead - the car could be tracked or disabled, making an arrest easy.

Existing roadways can continue to be used - no need for a big bond issue to build a special elevated or rail system.

Driverless cabs should be considerably cheaper than current cabs, making it feasible for low income families to enjoy good transportation, paying for it by the trip instead of taking out a big loan on a car or a pickup truck. (Of course, that also means unemployed cabbies, who would have to find some other way of earning a living).

Driver's licenses would likely disappear, except for those that insist on owning and driving their own car. Or for the wealthy, who just has to have a ten car garage for his toys.

-- William B.





Bill,

Thank you for taking time to actually investigate ATN/PRT. Few do.

You have outlined two major concerns: vandalism and the potential of robocars. Here is what I wrote for the website:
http://sunnyhillsneighborhood.org/SNA-BART.html#operation
--
Vandalism, which is included in O&M, can be reduced by the inclusion of video cameras at each station and user-to-system control communications in each cab (so problems can be promptly reported).

Robocars

Although driverless vehicles are expected to become a growing percentage of cars on the road over the next decade or two, they won't solve our congestion problems. Yes, they reduce the need to own an automobile. Already, we see cabs, Uber, and Zip Cars increasingly being used for transportation and to share ownership. However, driverless vehicles don't reduce the number of cars on our roadways. Because they could become ubiquitous for many who cannot currently drive (due to handicaps, license restrictions, or lack of car ownership), they may slightly increase the number of cars on our roads. More significantly, however, is that robocars will frequently move around without any passengers after dropping off one passenger and driving to pick up another. In those areas where our roads are already congested, an overlay of ATN can help many more people get around easily without adding to the congestion (and possibly reducing it).
--
More specific responses to your vandalism issues address escalators, urination, and number of stations multiplying vandalism opportunities:

ATN/PRT stations will generally be small and simple, with stairs and inexpensive elevator. Stations (and extra guideway) cost about $500,000 each. So, escalator maintenance is eliminated.

As for urination, I would leave a quart-sized wide-mouth plastic jar with lid at the station so socially-conscious people could urinate into a container if need be. (I carry one in my car and use it in the back seat occasionally. Or is that TMI - too much information?) However, since local governments are unlikely to take that option, people needing to relieve themselves can PRT to one of the stations that actually have a bathroom.

As for number of stations and cabs multiplying vandalism opportunities, yes, no question about that. However, mitigations are possible with video cameras at each station and user-to-system control communications in each cab (so problems can be promptly reported). Your point about robocar users being more responsible because they are identified through their credit card could also be applied to ATN/PRT usage and complimented with transit-issued cards.


"America seems to be full of vandals, litterbugs and slobs, compared to certain other nations." That social problem can be reduced by treating people as humans rather than cattle. Specifically, as the US becomes a more socially just, environmentally sustainable, and spiritually fulfilling country, the number/percentage of vandals, litterbugs and slobs will go down. Until then, they may appreciate the service level of conveniently located stations with awaiting cabs ready to take them away (and not let them sit around angrily waiting for the next vehicle to arrive). That appreciation of personal vehicles, better service and a clean, quiet ride will likely reduce abuse. Let's at least try ATN/PRT to find out what the vandalism level actually is here. Or, we can check with Morgantown to see what their level is.

"When enough people adopt such a [robocar] scheme, the number of cars on the road should drop dramatically, easing road congestion and parking." As mentioned in the Robocars section above, I doubt that congestion will go down - and expect it to go up.

"One disabled ATN car stuck on a track would disable much of the system, backing up everyone for miles. One clever vandal could quickly figure out how to disable a car, laughing as the system clogs up a whole line, making everyone mad and disgusted with the system." First, I have never heard of such an incident happening with the few operating systems, even at the Morgantown system that has been operating for 40 years carrying mostly college students. Next, most PRT systems have at least enough back-up power to take them to the next station in the case of a power failure. Some systems include the option of another cab pushing the disabled cab to the next station. Assuming that a vandal (or act of God) actually disabled a cab on an elevated guideway, only that loop or link is affected. The rest of the network will continue operating. That is why some folks refer to PRT as a physical Internet. If a link fails, traffic just gets routed around it.

"Existing roadways can continue to be used - no need for a big bond issue to build a special elevated or rail system." I see a trend of roadway maintenance costs growing while ATN/PRT guideway costs shrink. At some point, road maintenance will likely exceed guideway maintenance costs on a per-mile basis. And, remember, that you and I are paying for the widening of Montague Expressway in Milpitas to handle demand. Milpitas also needs a $75M expansion of the 237/Calaveras Blvd. bridge over the RR tracks.

"There's a certain fear of being attacked in a public railcar, without a good way to escape. That would disappear with driverless cars - should your car show up with an uninvited passenger, you would just not get in, and signal the police instead - the car could be tracked or disabled, making an arrest easy. " The fear of being attacked also disappears with ATN/PRT for the same reason. And if someone in a cab needs to be apprehended, the system operators could route that cab to the local police station (one of the 20 stations proposed for Milpitas).

Thanks again for taking the time to investigate ATN/PRT. If your concerns have not been resolved, let's continue the discussion. Otherwise, I invite you to join others (including Dave Cortese) in helping fund the first step: http://sunnyhillsneighborhood.org/crossing.html#help




-------- Forwarded Message --------
From: Rob Means <rob.means@electric-bikes.com>
To: William B.
Re: The ATN station proposal...
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2015 14:08:25 -0700

Bill,

I've embedded my responses below.
--
Thanks. It looks wonderful. Wondering if there's a major installation of something like this as a publicvehicle? Amusement park rides and air terminal transport don't count, since there's a lot of policing and very rapid repair of problems there, plus really effective measures against a criminal or vandal attack against the system.
What degree of security from vandalism are you looking for? Remember, BART stops running if a vandal removes a one-foot long section of rail or someone commits suicide on the third rail. Either will cause the entire corridor to stop operating. Are you looking for a higher in-service measure than BART? In the case of a PRT loop in a high-density area (as I am proposing), I imagine most vandals would be dissuaded by good lighting, video cameras, and frequent passers-by in PRT cabs that can observe station activity (aka "eyes on the street"). After that we look at vandal-resistant materials and designs. However, until we put something in the field, we can only guess about the level of vandalism and the potential disruption to operations. BTW, you are not the first to bring up these issues which have, to a large degree, been addresses in the various designs.

ATN is still mostly a railroad, with a single track, so when one car fails and can't be moved, it locks up a complete loop, causing a lot of consternation and delays for the travelers.
Although all you say is true, what does it matter if that only occurs once every 10 years? Yesterday, a 20-minute drive took me 90 minutes because the 280/101 interchange was shut down due to a threatened suicide. I hear it was not the first time. So, perhaps the question really is will PRT service level meet or exceed the service level of buses, LRT, BART, airport APMs, and roads? Due to the simplicity of the physical designs (electric motors, simple switches, clean and smooth "road") combined with preventative maintenance, I expect service level to exceed what we are accustomed to.

Whether a rapid response repair crew could handle such problems quickly is an issue - what's the engineering behind that? For example, the system may need a standing crew with a special truck that can drive to a trouble spot and physically pull the car - with passengers - off the track, get them to an alternate station to continue their ride, releasing other cars. Some serious damage to a track is another story - consider the hit BART is taking now, trying to replace thousands of deteriorated rail beds.
Again, you seem to be expecting a failure level far higher than what has been demonstrated for the past 40 years at Morgantown, WV. Rare emergency efforts may be called for , but certainly will be planned for.

As to driverless cars, yes, the overall traffic would probably be a bit larger. On the other hand, a lot more people could then live in high rises with minimal garage space, cutting the cost of the building and increasing density. Both work to reduce the need for cars on the street. Los Angeles is such a mess because it's all spread out, with huge parking lots, too many cars, too many "ranch style" homes, etc., and no effective public transportation. SF, Boston, New York, Paris and other major cities offer high density living without having to own a car at all, and driverless cars would provide some cost advantage over human cabbies.
I don't discount the value of driverless cars, and expect they will grow to dominate the field of both private and public cars (at the same time that electric drive systems do the same). You may have heard that Tesla is already offering conversion kits. As for traffic congestion in Los Angeles, I have hears that it is not due to lack of density, but rather too much car subsidy ("free" parking) and poor public transit.

My reading of public transportation of any kind is that - realistically - it has to compete in convenience, reliability and timeliness of the private car.
I agree. That's why an ATN that covers many square miles makes so much sense. Like big-city transit, one can easily walk from home to the nearest station, immediately (no wait for vehicle) ride non-stop to a destination station, followed by a short walk to the door. That door-to-door time is critical, and it's likely to be quicker using ATN than a car. The fact that the rider gets extra personal time  in transit is frosting on the cake.

If we could somehow get half the commuters in San Jose out of their car and into one of the many buses running around half empty, the bus service could be offered every ten minutes at any stop, and the lower traffic means they could get around faster with less delays. Shoppers should also be encouraged to have their stuff delivered, maybe with a driverless car, then they don't need a cart for grocery shopping, etc.
We can get half the commuters out of their cars. And we've known it for 10 years. Here's the paper that outlines how adding PRT to the mix makes other transit options better - enough so that half the commuters to the Stanford Research Park are willing to leave their cars at home: http://www.cities21.org/silver_bullet.htm

Half the Muni system in SF is electric, so they've already got a pretty good solution there, except for the traffic jams and delayed bus schedules from all the private cars!
Well, that is a service-level degradation that ATNs don't endure. And ATNs cost about one-third the price of street cars (now called LRT).

I'm all for higher taxes on the purchase price and tuel for gas/diesel cars, restricted lanes, less parking lots and garages, and make all that more expensive. Put the money into a lot better and frequent public transport. In the end, it's a political issue, not an engineering or economic one.
That's what I've been saying for a decade. ATN/PRT is not an engineering or financial problem, it is strictly a political problem.

Rob, why don't you toss your hat into the ring for another SCCDC talk on transportation? Might have to be next year, given we've just heard from Rod Diridon on HSR.
I am happy to speak about ATN to anyone willing to listen. BTW, Rod was "off track" in saying steel wheel on steel rail is the most efficient system because the biggest factor − by far − is the wind resistance, not rolling resistance. http://www.electric-bikes.com/betterbikes/winddrag.html

--
Rob Means, Secretary
Sunnyhills Neighborhood Association
www.SunnyhillsNeighborhood.org
408-262-0420, SNA@electric-bikes.com
1421 Yellowstone Ave, Milpitas, CA 95036-0581
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